The Royals scratched Bruce Chen from his start on Wednesday, but his return to the mound on Saturday is also in doubt.
An MRI on Chen’s balky back, a condition initially described as tightness in his left glute muscle, revealed a swollen disk pressing against nerves. The discomfort manifested with pain shooting down his leg. Chen (1-2, 7.45 ERA) received an epidural to quell the swelling, and painted his condition on Tuesday as one of temporary agony.
“It’s just constant pain,” Chen said. “And it’s like shooting pain, burning pain. It’s like tightness, tightness all the way into my leg. I’m just saying that today, because today feels worse than before.”
The epidural requires a 72-hour period of recovery. The Royals hope Chen can throw a bullpen session on Thursday and make his re-scheduled start. Manager Ned Yost described the injury as “not a major ordeal.” He declined to name a prospective replacement for Chen.
“We don’t think we’re going to need a fall back,” Yost said. “We’re not ready to go there yet. We think he’s going to be OK. But we’ll wait and see.”
But Yost often downplays injuries. Chen has been managing this condition for weeks. He insists it has not affected him on the mound. But his performance has been alarming.
In his last three starts, Chen has allowed 15 runs in 13 innings. The Indians pummeled him with a five-run inning in his last appearance. Even without Chen’s injury, Yost intended to skip him. Yordano Ventura starts on Wednesday, followed by Jeremy Guthrie on Thursday and James Shields on Friday.
Danny Duffy looms as a potential replacement for Chen. Yost stressed he would not alter Duffy’s usage in the next few days as a precaution for a potential emergency start. “I’m not going to jeopardize a win today for a game tomorrow,” Yost said.
The organization will wait for the epidural to run its course, and for Chen to try to throw again. Chen is committed to make his start.
“The most important thing about this is to have a positive attitude,” Chen said. “If I don’t think that I can start on Saturday, then I probably won’t be able to start. But I’m watching videos and doing all my stuff. I’m preparing myself for Saturday. I can’t have it in my mind that I’m not going to.”
Nearby stood Yordano Ventura, the 22-year-old who Chen translates for and mentors.
“You’ll be OK, man,” Ventura said, maintaining a deadpan expression. Chen couldn’t hold back a smile.